The God Who Goes Before Yet Follows After
By R. L. Wyser
Text: Isaiah 52:12
GOD IS OUR REAR-WARD
The key thought to which we give attention here is contained in one single word. The word is rear-reward, or it could be spelled rearward. It is a word, which seems strange, even foreign, but hidden in it is truth which can heighten our appreciation of God.
At least six times this word is used in the Old Testament. The first instance is in the book of Numbers. There, Moses is describing the order in which the tribes of Israel took up their march during their years in the wilderness. “And the standard of the camp of the children of Dan set forward, (which was) the rear-ward of all the camps.” The second occurrence is in the sixth chapter of Joshua where the great military leader of those same tribes is describing years later how they marched around the city of Jericho before its fall. “And the armed men went before the priests that blew with the trumpets, and the rear-ward came after the ark.” Another place it is used is in I Samuel where the writer is relating events in connection with the threat of a battle between the Philistines and the forces of Israel. “And the lords of the Philistines passed on by hundreds and by thousands: but David and his men went on in the rear-ward with Achish.”
But the most notable instances where the figure of out text is used are two places in the prophecy of Isaiah. There, one of the greatest of God’s spokesman seizes upon the word to bring home a great spiritual truth. In one place he says, “For ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight: for the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel (will be) your rear-ward.” Further on, Isaiah looks to the day when his people shall return to the Lord, a time when he will pour out his spiritual light and blessing upon them. He says, “Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rear-ward.” (Isaiah 52:12, 58:8)
To see what this word means, and to understand the spiritual truth, which is in this text, we go back to Israel’s years in the wilderness, after the emancipation from Egypt. There were hundreds of thousands of those people in that vast desert area. Organization and order had to be established. When a day’s journey began, there could be nothing but chaos, unless some pattern of march should be enforced. If we have ever watched mere hundreds or thousands being brought into an order of a modern parade, then we can imagine how difficult it must have been to get these tribes of people in readiness, and keep them moving with a minimum of confusion. I think a modern day example of that would be the Macy Day Parade, and how that all of these floats and all of these different marching bands, and all of the different people, have to be organized. If they weren’t, there would be mass confusion. How difficult that must be. This, I think, was even more so when you consider the children of Israel. Also, we have to consider, the barren country, which they were traveling through, had no roads, no towns. Watering places and vegetation were very scarce; yet, they had aged people, and mothers, and small children to provide for. Children could easily drop behind and become lost. And at times there was the danger of an attack by the enemy.
It all pointed to a need for some men who could gather the stragglers and restore lost children to their loved-ones. It was this strong, alert guard of sentinels which was named the rear-ward. No doubt there were some of these watchers marching behind each one of the tribes, but the bulk of that responsibility fell to the tribe of Dan. I find something bracing and majestic in the thought that these stalwart sons of Dan, the fifth son of Jacob, placed into the air the standard of their honored father, and brought up the rear of that enormous crowd marching away from slavery toward a promise land. Dan, who Moses calls a lion’s club, courageous, resolute, and his tribe, more than sixty thousand of them forming the rear-ward, the rear guard, to leap upon any enemy who might approach from behind. Yet, they could tenderly restore those who had fallen back or were lost.
There is a historical fact; the dramatic beginning of the idea. There was always help from behind. There was strength that followed. And from the concerned, faithful activity of those brave sons of Dan, God has drawn a spiritual lesson to hearten His people in every generation. The words of this text are a great promise: “The God of Israel will be your rear-ward.” It was given to the descendants of Abraham in order to turn their thoughts to the restoring and keeping providence of God. In the second phase of his prophecy, Isaiah was interpreting their exile, their captivity in Babylon as God’s judgment upon their sin, but he was also holding before them a promise that was bright with hope. They would be delivered; and the remnant that kept the faith would be restored to their homeland. And when that time arrived, they could rest in the promises and the protection of their faithful God. “Ye shall not go out with haste,” God says. In that day, when God delivered them, they would not need to flee for their lives from pursuers as their fathers had to do when they left the bondage of Egypt. The Lord would go before them to lead them; and the same merciful God would bring up the rear to gather those who could not keep up, and to secure safety for all who answered His call to come out. God’s presence would be their protection.
What a precious truth is opened here to the children of God. When we trust our strong and merciful God, we are never away from His protection and concern. Jesus Christ, the captain of our salvation, is leading us toward the glory, which we are to share with Him forever. He is our defense against all of the fiery darts of the wicked one, or what the Phillips” translation calls “every burning missile the enemy hurls at us.” God is also what David called “our shade upon our right hand.” That was the side unprotected by the soldier’s own shield, and it promises God’s protection from those unexpected side attacks which it is so difficult for us to anticipate. Trials, temptations, and sinful assaults can come so quickly to try to defeat the spiritual progress of soldiers of faith. Then it is that Christians look to the Lord. He is their security, both before them and beside them.
But most encouraging of all, God is our rear-ward. He comes up behind. He waits for the weak. He reaches a loving hand to the feeble. He knows our frame. He remembers that we are dust. And although He never indulges us in any waywardness or presumptuous sin, He is patient with His people. He is long-suffering and of great mercy. If He sees in us a true devotion to Himself, if we evidence that the desire of our soul is to Him and to the doing of His will, oh, how He stoops to our weakness, how graciously forgives the penitent and binds up the wounds of our soul.
Each one of God’s children is the object of the heavenly Father’s tender care and unfailing protection. He is above them. “The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous.” (I Peter 3:12) He is before them. “He putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them.” (John 10:4) He encircles them. “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them.” (Psalms 34:7) He is with them. “Fear thou not; for I (am) with thee.” (Isaiah 41:10) With unshakable trust in God, we confidently can exclaim like Whittier wrote, “I know not where his islands lift their fonded palms in air, I only know I cannot drift beyond his love and care.”
We can understand that God is above us. We can understand that God is before us. We can even, of course, understand that God is with us, that He does see us. You know, we have the scriptures, “Thou, O God, seeth me.” We have the scriptures, “Lead us not into temptation.” We have the scriptures, “Lo, I am with you always.” So we understand, God is above us, God is before us, God is with us.
But what about behind us? This text can clarify and open up that familiar sentence which comes almost at the end of the twenty-third Psalm where we read that “goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” The gifted English preacher, Dr. Jowett, once commented on those words with deep discernment. “But why follow me?” he asks. “Why not go before?” Because some of my enemies are in the rear. They attack from behind. There are foes in my yesterdays which can give me fatal wounds. They can stab me in the back.
ENEMIES FROM BEHIND
There are enemies that can come from behind, and for those God will always be the rear guard.
We need some forgetfulness, forgetfulness of our blunders. Yes, our blunders. No matter how aggravated, no matter how evil, no matter how many, no matter how grievous. It is a terrible word, the word remorse. It comes from re-, again, and “mordeo, to bite or gnaw. During the Middle Ages, and to some degree in later times, remorse drove men and women into monasteries to spend their time in worthless and miserable lives. Remorse may so emphasize past faults as to rob the spirit of repentance, energy, and hope. In this way, all wholesome progress becomes impossible. We need all of the encouragement for our work that the sense of God’s forgiveness can bestow. Brooding on yesterday’s blunders tends toward morbidness and dishonors God. Dragging the dead out of the grave destroys health, and it is a sin against one’s own soul. Dragging skeletons out of the closet is a hideous business, and foolish.
Members of the Methodist Church in Wilsall, Montana, say they got quite a shock when they opened an old coffin found in the shed behind the church building. Inside they found a skeleton that the county coroner determined was a realistic, wired-together, copy of the real thing. The skeleton, it seemed, belonged to the local Odd Fellows chapter. The Odd Fellows used skeleton models in their initiation ceremonies. There would be a lot more surprises in our church if all of the hidden skeletons of past moral failure came to light. But for those who confess and forsake their sins, there is pardon, full and free. No one needs to be haunted by the memory of past sins after claiming, by faith, God’s forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ. “Let the dead stay buried,” is what the scripture says. Forget the things that are behind, else you will show that you are as unkind to yourself, and as foolish, as Charles II, who with pomp and pageantry, ordered Oliver Cromwell’s bones exhumed, the skeleton hanged between two thieves at Tyburn, to satisfy his hatred. For twelve years, Cromwell’s skull was elevated upon a pole above Westminster Hall where it stood exposed to the rain of twelve summers and the snows of twelve winters.
In the Bible, the emphasis has been placed repeatedly upon the one great word, remember. All of the way from Moses to the latest of the apostles, men are saying, “Do not forget.” That is only half of the message. Side-by-side with the exhortation to remember is the injunction to forget. Isaiah, the preacher in whose prophecy and preaching were thunders of Sinai and fore gleams of Calvary, speaks almost the same words of the apostle Paul when he says, “Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old.” (Isaiah 43:18) This means we are to dismiss from our minds many things, which are behind. Ezekiel, with burning passion, pleads with his countrymen to remember Egypt no more. “They shall also strip thee out of thy clothes, and take away thy fair jewels. Thus will I make thy lewdness decease from thee, and thy whoredom (brought) from the land of Egypt: so that thou shalt not lift up thine eyes unto them, nor remember Egypt any more.” (Ezekiel 23:26-27)
There are some things to be remembered. There are some things to be forgotten. No man who wishes to achieve success can afford to do useless and weakening things. One of the most useless of all habits is that of dragging along too much of one’s past. Like one chained to a dead body, it handicaps a man in the race. It takes from him his strength. Many a man has been fatally crippled and paralyzed simply by carrying along some things he ought to have let go. Blunders. We have all committed them. We made them when we were little children. We made them when young men and young women. We made them when adults, which is somewhat more surprising. Some will say, “If I had taken a left turn, instead of the right. If I had put my money here and not put it there. If I had obtained an education or a different kind of education. If I had done something else. “Let us forget our mistakes and remember them no more forever. Let us stand on top of them and reach out for higher things. How often people say, “What a fool I was. What a fool I was. What a fool I was.” The next time you catch yourself saying that, change the tense of the verb. Do not say, “What a fool I was,” but say this, “What a fool I am, to keep everlastingly saying, “What a fool I was.'” A man never displaces folly more conspicuously than when he is using up his strength and time in crying over spilt milk.
Certainly, we are right and wise to forget our losses. It takes a man a long time to learn how to walk a tightrope, or play a position on a team, or solve a puzzle, or carry a load up a hill; and it may take a struggle to forget your losses. We must learn to get past them. It is a painful and tragic sight to see a strong, alert man singing his dirges and chanting his jeremiads because he has lost some property or money, none of which he can take with him when he dies. No man is to whine and mope, and go down, because there are losses here and there.
This does not mean we are to forget and never recall those whom we have loved and lost a while. Must we go no more into the secret chambers of memory and think of our beloved and saved dead? Must we try to erase their images from the tablets of our heart? Our redeemed dead are behind us, but before us. And though it may seem a long time since we left them back yonder, the passing years are not carrying us farther from them, but closer.
Some lose money through their own carelessness. Some lose money through rascality of others. We shouldn’t sit down and moan; it will not really regain a lost dollar. Don’t lie down and lose sleep; it will not regain a dime. Don’t grieve yourself into the grave. It is sad to lose money. Sadder, it is, to lose good sense. What is the sense in grieving over a thing that is gone irretrievably? If a man could get his hands on money simply by reaching into the past, that would be a sensible thing to do. But when a man can grasp nothing but a shadow, a shadow with poison in it, which will stunt and blast his soul, how foolish for him to keep grasping at the shadow.
Then, too, if we want to be really a Christian and show the Christ-like spirit, we must forget our injuries. We cannot go through life without being wounded; for life is a battleground. Sooner or later somebody hurts us. Some hurt is unintentional; some hurt is malicious and on purpose. Somebody lies about us because they are liars. Somebody tries to tell the truth about us, but doesn’t succeed, because the good we do is often unappreciated. Somebody misrepresents us because he doesn’t understand us. Somebody insults us because he doesn’t like the Lord Jesus Christ. Somebody slights us because of selfishness. Somebody works against us or tries to undermine us, or endeavors to tarnish our name or weaken our influence. We are opposed by those who do not hesitate to do things, which are tricky and mean.
What shall we do with all of these slights, these insults, these offenses? Forget them. Brooding on them uses strength needlessly. A single evil resentment weighs more than a ton of lead. It is a millstone around a man’s neck and will drown him in the depths of the sea. For hate is the heaviest thing in God’s universe, because it is most unlike the disposition of God. You cannot carry any of it along with you without depleting your strength. How foolish to carry even a little of it from one year to another. Why not throw it behind your back? Why not wash the slate clean? You have a great score of offenses. Wash the whole score out and begin all over again. No one can really claim to be the master of themselves, or really be free to do their very best, until they can stand on their feet and say, “There is not a soul on earth against whom I would lift a finger with the desire to hurt them; nor is there a single human being whom I have either the time or disposition to hate.” Of course, somebody has injured you. Your misfortune would be honeycomb to somebody. But, a sense of injury is aggravated by remembrance, and a grudge is the heaviest load you’ve ever carried.
Knowing this, shall we keep an interest in injuries? Knowing this, should you feed a fever? Knowing this, should you keep an open sore? Knowing these things, would we help leprosy to grow? It was said about Lincoln, “His heart was as big as the world, but in it he had not one bit of room for the memory of a wrong.” Why should we make chambers for every skeleton, and by retrospection, brood upon each blunder, and weep over each mistake and sin. All of this will destroy our aspirations, just like frost blights young corn. This morbidness cuts the very nerve of character. No wise person saves their old shoes, or puts away their old garments, or treasures the paring of the nails, or sweeps up the hair when the barber has finished shingling it. A wise housewife clears the attic and the basement once a year, lest the cast-off articles become food for moths and a center for disease and contagion. The city has scavengers to cleanse its streets and fling away all remnants of food and daily life. Every man and every woman should cleanse their memory from time-to-time, as the farmer cleanses the spring and fountain to fling away the leaves and mud that have slowly collected in the water that sustains the daily life. For God’s throne is mercy, sympathy, love, and He is faithful and just to forgive man’s sins, to rid each Saul of his fetter, to lend to each Paul strength for tomorrow’s task. “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also (do) ye.” (Colossians 3:13)
Before Louis XII became king of France, he suffered great indignities at the hands of his cousin, Charles XIII. He was slandered, thrown in prison, kept in chains, and in constant fear of death. Yet, when he succeeded Charles to the throne, however his close friends and advisors urged him to seek revenge for all of these shameful atrocities, Louis would not hear of any of the suggestions of these whisperers in his court. Instead, they were amazed to see him preparing a list of all of the names of men who had been guilty of crimes against him, and behind each name he was placing a red cross. His enemies, hearing of this, were filled with dread and alarm. They thought that the sign of the cross meant a sentence of death on the gallows. One after another, they fled the court, and their beloved country. But King Louis, learning of their flight, called for a special session of the court to explain his list of names and little red cross. “Be content and do not fear,” he said in a most cordial tone. “The cross which I drew by your names is not the sign of punishment, but a pledge of forgiveness, and a seal for the sake of the crucified Savior who upon His cross forgave all of His enemies, prayed for them, and blotted out the handwriting that was against them.”
What about our sins? A story is told about an interesting prank pulled by the famous playwright, Noel Coward, many years ago. It is said that he sent an identical note to twenty of the most famous men in London. The anonymous note simply read, “Everyone has found out what you are doing. If I were you, I would get out of town.” Supposedly, all twenty men actually left town. What if you opened your mail one-day and found such a note? What would race through your mind? Even though you’ve probably done nothing, it is a safe bet that for a brief moment your heart would beat a little faster and your palms might get a little sweaty. If you doubt it, think back to the last time that you saw a police car in your rearview mirror. When the police car finally passed you, didn’t you breathe a sigh of relief and chastise yourself a little for those crazy, unfounded guilt feelings?
We all live with a great weight of false guilt and anxiety hanging over us. I don’t mean the real and necessary sort of biblical guilt that helps us realize that we are sinners, and leads us to repentance. I mean the kind of guilt that dogs our lives, that comes from who-knows-where, and makes us feel miserable. Some people never marry and feel guilty that they didn’t; and some marry and feel guilty that they did. Some never have children and feel guilty about that; and others feel guilty about the poor parenting job are doing with the children they have. Some sick people feel guilty over the care they are forced to receive from others. Other healthy people, who have sick people in their family, feel guilty that they aren’t caring for them, as they should. We all carry around little guilt and big, about phone calls not answered, letters we have answered, books we have read, books we haven’t read, and on, and on, and on.
The other day I listened to the actual recording of a psychologist’s scheduled therapy sessions. One by one several people came in and unloaded the guilt they felt. One Jewish man shared his feelings of guilt because he was the only member of his entire family to survive a concentration camp during World War II. In another case, a woman expressed her guilt over being unable to appropriately care for an aged mother. She even felt guilty that she had had to institutionalize her parents. But we normal folks aren’t much different. If I were to ask you to identify your guilty problems, you would probably list several things, and so could I. Some of your feelings would probably be well founded, while others would be totally unfounded.
Yet, guilt can keep us from ever experiencing the fullness of life. We, as spiritual people, should daily know that it can cripple us emotionally, mortally hindering our spiritual growth and keeping us from experiencing our full potential as people of God. If you don’t deal with your guilt, then your guilt will deal with you. In his book, Whole People in a Broken World, Dr. Paul Tournier says that many people have come to his office complaining of all kinds of problems, some of them physical. Time-after-time these symptoms would turn out to be nothing more than the expression of some repressed guilt from years before that had never been dealt with.
But, three thousand years before Paul Tournier discovered the physical impact of guilt, David described it eloquently in the thirty-second Psalm and the third verse, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groanings all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me: my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” Evidently during that year David experienced some sort of illness related to his sins. His strength was sapped. He was feverish and he lost weight. Physically, he was feeling guilt’s effect. And when David spoke of guilt psychological effects, he said, “My conscious roared all day long. My mind was like a ravenous roar of a leaping lion and I heard it all along.” The lion image goes all of the way back to David’s boyhood. As a shepherd boy he had lived out in the fields of Bethlehem in absolute quietness. All day long he had heard only the low moan of the sheep. But sometimes, altogether unexpectedly, he would hear the roar of a leaping lion, and at that moment, he himself had to leap into action to protect the sheep with his own life. Then, as an older and guilt-ridden man, he could hear his conscious roar all day long. When he awoke in the morning, there it was leering and growling. At high noon, it roared. And at night, as he tried to sleep, it rumbled. His mind was in absolute turmoil. This is one of the most vivid mental images David could use.
Other than the writers of the Bible itself, no one has more expertly pictured guilt than Shakespeare has. He wrote that the mind of a guilty person was full of scorpions. We may think our guilt has spent its force, but when danger, death or detection draws near, the guilt will revive. Shakespeare’s characters show the long-lasting effects of guilt. Brutus, guilt-stricken after killing Caesar, keeps seeing Caesar’s ghost. Lady Macbeth sees blood on her hands after taking part in the murder. Macbeth sees floating daggers. Guilt.
Can this really happen? Can guilt really make us physically and mentally ill? Dr. Norman Covanish of the University of California in Los Angeles has studied the subject for decades. In 1968 he did an interesting series of investigative studies of single car accidents on the Los Angeles freeway system. Reviewing hundreds of cases, about one and a half percent of the total, he found that twenty-five percent, one out of every four was very definitely caused by the driver acting out of self-destructive behavior because of guilt. One woman, for instance, early in her marriage had been caught in a felony. When her husband found out, he told her that if she ever did anything like that again he would divorce her. Years later she embezzled some money at work and her boss threatened to tell her husband. When she left work that day, instead of going home the usual way, she took another route. In a moment of self-destructive guilt, she went over the side of a hill in her car. She survived and explained what guilt caused her to do.
Dr. Covanish says that when we live with guilt year-in and year-out, these same self-destructive impulses will surface, whether its behind the wheel of a car or in a myriad of other ways. David, himself, was on the way to utter personal ruin. So, the truth is that if you don’t deal with your guilt, it will deal with you.
The way to deal with guilt is to forget the sin that God has forgiven. Are we to forget them? Can we forget them? Don’t dig up sins God has buried.
A ten-year-old boy whose father was a minister had a deep desire to follow in his father’s footsteps. He thought that he would begin early in life to train for this noble work of preaching the gospel. He cast about in his mind as to how he could best train for the various phases of the Christian ministry. This boy had a black cat, which died one night and was found dead on the back porch in the morning. The lad thought that perhaps this would be just the opportunity to begin practicing to be a minister. He knew that ministers preached funeral sermons and that here was an opportunity. So, he obtained a shoebox and tenderly placed the corpse in this box. The cat had died with its head to one side and the young fellow could not turn it so it would face up as he had seen in the coffins at funerals. He therefore cut a whole in the lid of the box and caused the tail to protrude so that the visiting friends could see some part of the cat. He dug a grave in the backyard under a peach tree, obtained some string with which to lower the casket, and invited the neighbor children to attend the service. The sermon was given on the front porch. The funeral procession proceeded to the backyard and the cat was gently interred into the grave. When the boys filled the grave, the cat’s tail was left unburied. Every two or three days, the young preacher pulled the cat up using the tail for a handle in order to investigate its condition. After a few such times, the tail would hold no longer and the body remained buried.
How many, many troubled hearts do this with their sins. They confess them. They put them under the blood. But they continue to drag them up, pull them out, spread them before the Lord, weep over them afresh, and forget that God has blotted them out to remember them no more. How foolish we are to bring back these ugly things which God Himself put under the blood when we first confessed! Let us leave them buried, and do as our Lord has done, remember them no more. If you have repented of them and asked forgiveness, don’t be digging up that which God has buried. Don’t be trying to bring before his face that which he has cast behind his back. Don’t be trying to recall that which God has forgotten. Don’t be trying to bring up before you the things, which God has washed white as snow. Don’t be trying to write again that which God has blotted out. “All manner of sin shall be forgiven unto man except the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.” (Matthew 12:31) “And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)
A preacher on an evangelistic tour was invited to spend the night with some members of the local congregation. The family consisted of a father, a mother, and a twelve-year-old boy. They all set around the fire. The father began to tell of the circumstances surrounding the adoption of their only son, a youngster they had aided a few years before. “The child was just a poor orphan when we first saw him,” said the man. “He was in rags and very dirty, but his shoes were the worst of all. The upper parts were in tatters and the soles had huge holes in them. We immediately gave him new clothes but decided to keep these old battered shoes as a reminder of how badly off he really had been. I put them in a closet nearby, and whenever our son complains or becomes unruly, I merely take them out to help him remember how much we’ve done for him.”
.The minister noticed that the lad looked hurt and ashamed, and in fact, a bit unwanted. Careful to avoid offending his host, and realizing that he perhaps had a good motive in trying to make the youngster appreciate his blessings, the evangelist said nothing; yet, he recognized that always bringing up the grim past was disheartening to the boy. He thought to himself, “What a blessing it is that God has cast our sins into the sea of everlasting forgetfulness!”
“All of the times you have forgotten me, I will forget. Your frozen indifference, I will forget. Your years of sin and neglect, I will forget. Your fornication and uncleanness, I will forget.” This is what God is saying. He is saying to you, “Thy sins will I cast into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:19) Then, shall I be diving down to get them? Not unless I want to label myself a fool. “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalms 103:12) Shall I be disturbed as to that distance? No. Then shall I be inviting those sins to come back? No. I will abhor that which is evil henceforth, and cleave to that which is good, and let the dead bury their dead. We should be found “giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power darkness, and hath translated (us) into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, (even) the forgiveness of sin.” (Colossians 1:12-14) He blots out of the book of His remembrance our entire unholy living, if what? If we will repent and turn again to God.
There is a tremendous difference in repentance and remorse. This is illustrated in Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot. Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot both blew it. Simon cursed and denied that he knew the Lord. Judas sold Him for thirty pieces of silver. One went out and wept bitterly. The other went out and hanged himself. Simon turned back in repentance. Judas turned away in remorse. Remorse is concerned with the consequences. Repentance is concerned with the relationship. It is remorse to say, “Oh, Lord, forgive me and eliminate the consequences.” It is repentance to say, “Oh, Lord, forgive me and cure me, regardless of the consequences, and if need be, double the consequences to cure me.” One man said, “I’m not about to pray like that.” I responded, “Neither am I. Only God can enable us to pray like that.” But when we want to be made whole, and not simply escape consequences, then God can enable us to utter such a prayer.
At one of our retreats there was a woman who seemed very religious, but somehow it was hard to relate to her. She was tough on everyone, showing little sympathy or love. Later she came for counseling. In our conversation, she said, “I was having an affair with another man. The reason I was acting so religious on the retreat was that I was trying to compensate for my guilt.”
There are two ways that we can try to deal with our guilt, either we can attempt to pay for it or we can find forgiveness. There is no constructive way we can pay for guilt or compensate for it. We may try to conceal it, but it will poison our whole life unless it is resolved.
In II Samuel, the story is told of David’s great sin. He took another man’s wife and arranged for her husband to be killed. He was the king. Who could reprimand him? No one had to. David’s own witness of his experience is found in Psalms 32, “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer.” David tried to conceal his guilt, but inwardly it was tearing him apart. The Lord sent Nathan to help him acknowledge his guilt, and get it out where something redemptive could be done. Nathan told David a story about a rich man who had everything and a poor man who had only one ewe lamb. When a traveler came, the rich man spared his own flock but took the poor man’s one lamb for the traveler. David’s anger was kindled. His reaction was very human. We hate most vigorously the evil in others that we secretly recognize in ourselves. David told Nathan that this man would pay, and asked who he was. Nathan answered, “Thou art the man.” What David feared most had happened? He was exposed. His response to that exposure was one of agonizing repentance. Though his sin was not without consequence, from his repentance came deliverance. Psalm 51 is David’s prayer of repentance and Psalm 32 is his witness to the sweetness of forgiveness. “Blessed (is he whose) transgression (is) forgiven, (whose) sin (is) covered. Blessed (is) the man whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit (there is) no guile.” Healing comes only with forgiveness.
The devil may be dogging you. He can’t get you with temptation and trial, but he comes from behind. God is your rear guard. He goes before you, but thank God, He also follows after you. Put it in God’s hands and forget it. If there is sin, repent of it, and forget it. If you already have, then God is faithful to forgive you. You can count on that, and you can stand on that.
Bible Preaching Resource/Copyright 2000
By Richard L. Wyser. All rights reserved. This material may be used in preaching or teaching or in local church bulletins or hand-outs. No part of this material can be published or reproduced for any other reason. For information, address: Bible Preaching Resource, P. O. Box 846, Addison, IL 60101
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